Saturday, 16 February, 2019

Saturn’s rings are younger than thought

New research provides evidence of rainfall on the north pole of Titan the largest of Saturn’s moons shown here. The rainfall would be the first indication of the start of a summer season in the moon’s northern hemisphere according to the researcher NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spotted fresh rainfall on Saturn’s moon Titan
Kristen Harrington | 21 January, 2019, 15:29

A recent study published in the journal Icarus suggested that Saturn's rings are a short-lived feature and they will be completely gone in around 300 million years. The so-called "Grand Finale" signaled that the end was nigh for the probe and, on September 15, 2017, it burned up in the gas giant's atmosphere, bringing a spectacular 13 years of science in Saturn's orbit to a poignant close. Though mission scientists expected to detect some wispy elemental gases in this "empty" region, Cassini's particle instrumentation found a smorgasbord of elements and molecules "raining" from the rings down to the planet's atmosphere.

Gravity readings Cassini took from Saturn (rather than its rings) suggest the planet has a mass around 15-18 times that of Earth. "The more we learn about Saturn's rings, the more fragile and transient they seem to be".

Before swooping in between the planet and its rings, Cassini orbited the planet outside of its rings.

Saturn's moon Titan, which some scientists have theorized could be the home to extraterrestrial life due to the presence of surface liquid and dust storms, is providing another surprise to researchers - the sight of fresh rainfall.

During NASA's Cassini spacecraft's Grand Finale, the craft dove between the planet and its rings.

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Data from Cassini is also helping to solve a long-running mystery: How long is a day on Saturn?

"T$3 he rings have less than 100 million years to live".

We want our model predictions to match our observations.

The findings challenge the notion favoured by some astronomers that the rings developed soon after Saturn formed about 4.5 billion years ago along with the other planets, including the earth.

The same measurements captured by Cassini also revealed something else about Saturn - the layers of its atmosphere rotate around the planet at different speeds, until you get at least 9,000 kilometres (5,590 miles) in.

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The figure has eluded planetary scientists for decades, because the gas giant has no solid surface with landmarks to track as it rotates, and it has an unusual magnetic field that hides the planet's rotation rate.

Scientists had previously relied on density waves, or ripples, through the rings caused by the motion of the 62 moons in Saturn orbit to estimate ring mass.

Now, with the precision measurements made by Cassini's final orbits, we know that there is no hidden mass.

In that time, it discovered six more moons around Saturn, three-dimensional structures towering above Saturn's rings, and a giant storm that raged across the planet for almost a year. So the planet could've existed without its rings for an extremely long time - up to 4,490,000,000 years. Scientists will continue to investigate exactly how the rings came to be, but their young age bolsters a theory that a comet may've strayed too close to the planet, was ripped to shreds and then became part of the rings. One of the main results of his analysis is the new calculation of Saturn's rotation rate, which has been surprisingly hard to measure.

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